NEW YORK -- The Marlins announced Tuesday that they'll open their new ballpark with two exhibition games against the Yankees.
Two days earlier, they announced that they'll open the new ballpark with the same core of players they have now.
That's not exactly true, but it sure did feel significant that the Marlins let this non-waiver trade deadline pass without sending anyone away. The Marlins haven't usually been active sellers in July, but somehow it felt more significant that they didn't sell anyone off this July 31.
It didn’t go unnoticed in the clubhouse, either.
"Next year, going to the new stadium, we're going to need those pieces," Wes Helms said.
That squares with what the Marlins told teams that inquired about Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Leo Nunez and other Marlins. The Marlins may not have much chance at catching the Braves in the NL wild-card race (although they say they're not giving up on that yet), but they believe that a strong finish this year can be an important step towards what they hope to do in the new park next year.
"They know they want a winner going into the new stadium," Helms said.
It was a strange trade deadline in the NL East. The two teams that have pulled away at the top did exactly what you'd expect -- both the Phillies and Braves improved by adding Astros outfielders -- but the three teams at the bottom resisted all-out sales.
The Mets traded only the two players they absolutely had to move, outfielder Carlos Beltran and closer Francisco Rodriguez. The Nationals eventually dealt starter Jason Marquis, but only after trading for a bench player (Jonny Gomes) and trying like heck to trade for a center fielder.
And the Marlins held onto what they have, happy that after falling 11 games under .500 in late June, they played well enough in July that they began play Tuesday just one game below break-even for the season.
"I've always preached to them that once we get to .500, we'll take off," manager Jack McKeon said. "I gave that same speech in '03."
The difference was by the first days of August 2003, the Marlins were already 10 games over .500, and just two games behind in the wild-card race. As of Tuesday, the Marlins were 8 1/2 games behind the wild-card leading Braves (and a game behind the third-place Mets).
At this point, it really seems to be about finishing strong and building momentum towards the new stadium.
"It was important to win games and continue to improve and have continuity," general manager Larry Beinfest told reporters after the July 31 deadline passed. "And we felt pretty good about keeping this team together at this point and having a good, productive two months as we head into the new ballpark."
Beinfest and McKeon said the Marlins would have added rather than subtracted had they made a move at the deadline.
"I mean, we're trying to build," McKeon said. "We're not trying to trade our good pieces off."
They're building a ballpark. They believe they're building a winning team.
They're trying to sell tickets. They didn't sell their players.
It's all related.